There is a lot to learn from Bhutan: Australian ambassador for Women and Girls

Q&A: Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja, who is in the country at the invitation of Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Sangay Choden Wangchuck, spoke with Kuensel’s Gyalsten K Dorji on her visit to the country. An excerpt from the interview.

 What is the purpose of your visit to Bhutan?

My job as ambassador is to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, and I received a kind invitation from the Queen Mother Her Majesty to look at the work that she’s doing through RENEW. And the Australian government was particularly enthusiastic to provide funding towards the national awareness media campaign that RENEW has developed and is promoting.

So it was a wonderful opportunity to come to Bhutan to announce the funding AUD 200,000 and also to examine the work of RENEW and the issues affecting women and girls in Bhutan.

I’ve had some field trips including a visit to the RENEW shelter so it’s a very big part of my work, the issue of women and girls and boys who are victims of family violence and violence generally so that was one of the aims of this visit. It’s been an incredibly exciting and insightful trip.

 During your field visits did you encounter any issues of concerning women and children in Bhutan?

I think the most pressing issue for many societies, including Australia, is the issue of violence against women and children. I think Bhutan and Australia have quite a few things in common in this regard. There is still a prevalence in some places with women and children being hurt either physically or psychologically. And yes, today, there were cases of children being abused and Bhutan is no different from any other community or culture. It happens all over the world.

We need to tackle this scourge that is violence against women and children. There are stories of children who’ve lost their parents, children who’ve lost their mothers, children who’ve been hurt or abused in someway. But the flip side of that of course is the very positive work that an organisation like RENEW is doing in order to prevent violence before it occurs. To shelter and protect people from violence when it happens and most importantly provide counselling and develop resilience in communities, and men, women and children, so this doesn’t repeat itself. So that people can have productive meaningful and happy lives.

In your interactions with Bhutanese women, were there any examples of gender equality in Bhutan you came across? For instance, in some place in Bhutan, property is passed down to the female gender rather than the male.

That one’s an excellent example. I was very inspired by the work of RENEW and there are some ideas that I will take back to Australia.

I’ve spoken to some women in high positions of power. I’ve been impressed by women who’ve made it to the ministry, who’ve made it to high levels in the private sector, women who are in your departments and your governmental civil service.  They’re examples, serve as very good examples for women across the world, including Australia where we still have a long way to go.

For example, Bhutanese women were telling me about the great success stories within the private sector in terms of the equivalence, the way that men and women are treated and compensated. In Australia we still have a very large pay gap between men and women in our private sector. So there are many stories in Bhutan that I will take back to Australia and indeed in my travels around the world that are positive and shining examples.

What other areas of cooperation and collaboration are being explored?

Many areas. But of course there are many areas where we already have partnerships. The relationship between our countries dates back many years and particularly the education connection is one of which we’re especially proud of.

Education is one area of collaboration, agriculture, and those areas are very strong areas of collaboration. We would like to see more involvement in the skills sector. But also I think the agriculture dimension is one that will be extended in years to come as we talk about the things we both want to do as countries and economies, whether it’s organic agriculture, whether it’s talking about trade and other issues or indeed talking about farming and livestock.

Ambassador Natasha Stott Despoja ceremoniously hands over the book to the teacher from Dungna LSS, Phuntsho Wangmo

Ambassador Natasha Stott Despoja ceremoniously hands over the book to the teacher from Dungna LSS, Phuntsho Wangmo

BAAA donates book

The Bhutan Australia Alumni Association (BAAA) hosted a reception for the Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja and Australian Ambassador to Bhutan, Patrick Suckling yesterday evening.

The association with support from the Australian government donated about 500 books to Dungna Lower Secondary School, a remote school in Chukha. The donation was dedicated to the national reading year and the 60th birth anniversary of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

Receiving the books, a teacher from the school, Phuntsho Wangmo said that the books will not only fill the empty shelves in the school library, but will also make a big impact on the education of the children who lack exposure. “When I return to my school with this lovely present, I will share the stories of Australia and the BAAA. Hopefully some of my students will make it to Australia and carry forward the connection made here today,” she said.

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